Renting a Car in England
Where to Pick Up Your Rental Car?
At the airport: If you are flying from North America, remember that you will be jet lagged and probably did not have a full night's sleep. Most flights from North America arrive early to mid-morning, which is the middle of the night on your body clock. But if you don't suffer from jet lag, pick up your car at the airport then do a leisurely drive to the Cotswolds (two hours or less from Heathrow) arriving in the afternoon at check in time. Note that there is sometimes a surcharge applied to the whole rental period when picking up at an airport.
In London: If you spend the first part of your trip in London, pick up your rental car on the day you are leaving for the countryside. Driving in London is difficult, but possible. Make sure you are covered for the "driving in London" road fees if you pick up in town. Consider taking the Heathrow Express to the airport and picking up there.
In Oxford or Bath: Take the train to Bath or Oxford (depending on which part of the Cotswolds you are staying in) and getting your rental car there. Note that in Bath, the car rental office is a couple of miles from the train station, while in Oxford it is close to the station.
What Type of Car?
Manual or Automatic?
It is significantly less expensive to rent a manual drive car, but remember that in England not only are you driving on the opposite side of the road, but you are shifting with your left hand.
What Size of Car is Best?
My favorite size for a rental car in England is "compact". This size car is powerful enough for the motorways and hills, but small enough for the narrow lanes and the narrow parking spots.
- Mini/Economy: Volkswagen Polo, Ford KA, Ford Fiesta
- Compact: Volkswagen Golf, Vauxhall Astra, Ford Focus
- Midsize: Volkswagen Passat, Vauxhall Vectra, Ford Mondeo, Rover 45
- Fullsize: Mercedes C, Fiat van, Seat van
Note: Vauxhall, called Opel or Chevrolet in other countries, is a European subsidiary of General Motors.
Ford Escort, Vauxhall Vectra, Volkswagen Passat
Inclusive or non-inclusive?
Inclusive means that insurance is included in the rental cost, but check the contract for the deductible amount, which is usually high.
Your insurance options:
- Rent your car with insurance included. You are responsible for the deductible, which can be high. When you pickup the car the local office will try to sell you insurance to cover the deductible. Take the time to work it out - if you have a longer rental, the per day extra cost may be almost the same as your deductible, so you are better off not getting it.
- Decline any insurance and insure your rental with your credit card. Talk to your credit card company about this. Some European countries are not covered (England is usually covered). Most US car insurance does not cover a European rental (check with your home car insurance company).
Sample prices from AutoEurope for the week of September 15, 2008. Picking up and dropping off at Heathrow Airport. AutoEurope usually offers a discounted price (their full prices is noted in brackets).
|Type of Car||With Insurance||Without Insurance|
|Compact: VW Golf manual||$332 ($339)||$207 ($245)|
|Compact: Opel Astra automatic||$489 ($499)||$258 ($266)|
|Midsize: VW Passat manual||$333 ($340)||$215 ($252)|
|Midsize: Opel Vectra automatic||$516 ($527)||$282 ($313)|
Remember that if you find a cheaper rate with another company, AutoEurope will match that rate, so it pays to shop around.
Diesel or Unleaded Gasoline (Petrol)?
Diesel cars are very common in England and the rest of Europe. Diesel is available at all gas stations (petrol stations) and is almost the same price as unleaded. Most midsize and larger cars are diesel. This makes these larger cars very fuel efficient. We drove a diesel Volkswagen Passat that got about 50 miles per gallon and a Vauxhall Vectra that got over 40 miles per gallon.
Many rentals come with Automobile Association (AA) coverage included for free. We had a small accident on a recent trip and AA came out to the site and got the car drivable for us with no charge. They arrived within 30 minutes of calling them. They only come if the car is not drivable. Your North American AA membership may cover you in Europe. Check with AA.
When You Get Your Car
When you pick up your rental car, have the agent look over the car with you.
- What type of gas (petrol) does the car use? Unleaded or diesel?
- If it is a manual transmission, go over the gears. Sometimes reverse is not where you think it will be.
- Check the car for previous damage and if there is any, have it noted on the contract. I also take photos of the car, from front, back and each side.
International Driving Permit (IDP)
The International Driving Permit (IDP) is a translation of your driving license and is needed, with your valid driving license, in some European countries. You do not need an IDP to drive in the United Kingdom - all you need is your valid US or Canadian driving license.
If you are traveling to the UK from another country, check this Directgov Motoring page: Driving in GB on a foreign licence.
(I emailed the DVLA - Great Britain Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency - in July 2008 and they said that you do not need an IDP for the United Kingdom. From the DVLA: "I can confirm that as a visitor you will be covered to drive for 1 year from date of entry in to the country on a valid US licence.")
AutoEurope is based in the US and is a broker for many car rental companies - Europcar, Avis/National, Hertz. We have used AutoEurope for all our European trips in the last 15 years and have been very happy with their service. Things to remember.
AutoEurope has good rates, and will beat cheaper rates
Use the AutoEurope website to find the cost of the rental car. Submit your inquiry and check the final cost on the contract they send you. Sometimes it is lower than what was shown on the site. Then look for a cheaper rate with other car rental companies and if you find one, send it to AutoEurope and ask them to beat the rate. I have done this and it works. Usually AutoEurope is the best rate, but if they are not, they will meet the rate.
When comparing rates, be sure you are comparing apples to apples. Do both rates include or exclude insurance? Are they for the same size and type of car?
Remember that an automatic transmission is more expensive (and well worth it IMO).
AutoEurope has great customer support
There are toll free numbers for AutoEurope from all European countries - make sure to bring them with you. These numbers take you to the US customer support offices. If something happens, call them. Talking to the local office sometimes can be frustrating, so if your problem is not resolved quickly, call AutoEurope.
Recently we got a car that had been drenched in perfume (probably to cover up the smell of cigarette smoke). We did not realize how strong it was until we had been in the car for an hour. When we reached our destination, we contacted the local office. They wanted to help us, but could not get a new car for a few days. I called AutoEurope, they called the local office, and we got a new car immediately.
AutoEurope lets you cancel easily or bring your car back early
When you book your rental car, you are charged either the full rental amount or a deposit (this varies by country).
- If you find a cheaper rate, or AutoEurope has a sale, they will refund the original amount and then bill you for the changed amount.
- If you cancel your rental before your trip, everything is refunded.
- If you have to cut your trip short, call AutoEurope and they will refund part of your rental. (Some people book through AutoEurope.co.uk for cheaper rates, but their policy is to not refund anything if you bring the car back early.)
AutoEurope contact numbers
Contact numbers for AutoEurope - Cotswolder IATA 72004243
Cotswolder receives a commission when you book using the links on this site. If you use our clickthru and have any problems with your rental car, contact me and I will get them resolved. I have been working with AutoEurope since 2002, first with SlowTrav.com and now with Cotswolder.com and SlowEurope.com and highly recommend them.
Frixo: Current traffic reports for UK motorways. Also available on your cell phone (mobile phone).